Friday, September 24, 2010

Holiday in Kuantan, Malaysia

If you're looking to get away from city life for some R & R with your kids, and not deal with airline ticketing, long haul flights and packing large suitcases of stuff, a place like Kuantan could be one destination you might want to consider.

For those of us living in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan, the capital of the state of Pahang, Malaysia would be just about a very manageable three to four hours' drive via expressways, or scenic coastal roads if you choose. Kuantan is well known for its beaches in Teluk Cempedak, Batu Hitam, Balok and other nearby beaches such as Beserah and Cherating.

According to Wikipedia, Kuantan has the most beaches compared to other cities in Malaysia. It has quite a number of hotels too, ranging from basic ones to resort types.

During the school holidays earlier this year in March, my family and I made a trip to Kuantan and stayed at the Swiss Garden Resort. It is a popular resort among families as they have quite affordable packages. The hotel amenities are reasonably good with the usual F&B places one would find in a resort, adults and kids swimming pools, gym and sauna, spa, jacuzzi and a pretty decent beach.

The seaview rooms

The swimming pool area

However, I found their ability to cope with a full-house situation a little lacking. You can make reservations online through their website or by calling them. Since it was peak period, checking in and checking out took some time. There were many Malaysian and Singaporean families at the resort since it was school holidays then for both countries.

The complimentary breakfast spread was satisfactory like most hotel breakfast buffets. The only problem we faced was the overwhelming crowd. There were not enough tables to cater to the full-house crowd at the Garden Terrace where breakfast was served so the queue at the entrance could get long if you arrived at the peak breakfast time. As the place overlooked the pool and featured a partially open concept, it was fully drenched by the morning sun, giving you a rather hot and humid start to your day if you happen to get seated at unstrategic spots. They have an outdoor deck section and a fully glass-walled indoor section so you can imagine how much sunlight the place was getting. It however, transformed into a very nice restaurant in the evening with a warm, cozy ambience created by clever design and location of water feature and lighting.

Recreational facilities are good as long as you are not expecting six-star luxury. I would rate this resort as a four-star place that meets general requirements of everyday middle-class families. They have their Tupai Kids' Club and Games room that offer various activities to keep kids occupied in a fun way. And there's the beach where you and your kids can spend hours playing in the sand or sea.

For mommies who need some pampering, do check out their Samsara Spa. Their treatments are totally relaxing and rejuvenating! Unless you're the type who can afford the time and money to visit a spa regularly, the couple of hundred bucks you cough up here is a worthwhile once-in-a-blue-moon treat.

Getting to Swiss Garden at Balok Beach from Kuantan is not difficult as the hotel website offers directions (about 9 km distance). The carpark is not covered so you'd need to drive up to the lobby to drop off your passengers and baggage especially if it rains.

If you wish to dine outside your hotel, there are quite a number of options in nearby places. Kuantan is known for its seafood and you can pick and choose from various restaurants lining the main roads leading to popular hotels and the town center. To name a few, they are Pak Su, Alor Akar and Muhibbah Seafood Restaurant. I'm not able to comment on these restaurants as I didn't get the opportunity to eat at any of these places. But judging from the crowd and some with tour buses parked outside when we passed by these places at night, I would think they would be reasonably good.

One place we did eat at was a western food restaurant called East Grill Steakhouse. The skinny on this place: good service, good food, reasonable price, comfortable, air-conditioned, fairly good menu. May be a bit hard to locate if you're not familiar with Kuantan but a GPS or a phone call to them for directions(we did both) would get you there.

Steak at East Grill

If spending your time at the resort is not enough, there are a few things you could do venturing out. Here's what we did:

Drive up north towards Cherating and Kemaman (about half to one hour's drive). You could visit the turtle sanctuary located beside Club Med Cherating. The turtle sanctuary is a simple, functional place although it is open to visitors. Admission is free (they welcome donations). They have a small exhibition room detailing info about turtles and conservation, and a small pond with some turtles swimming in it. You'd be done within half an hour there. Good initial exposure for kids on turtles, the danger they're in and how to help, although I spotted some bad English on their posters and brochure.

Driving along the coastal road towards Cherating and Kemaman gives you sights of 'kampungs' and cottage industries. You can stop by the roadside at one of the many stalls selling dried 'keropok' which you need to deep fry. You can buy them loose by weight or pre-packed in sealed plastic bags. They come in various flavours such as fish (various types), prawn, and lobster. They also have a 'wet' version that is dough-like called 'keropok lekor'. They have a fishier taste and you can dip it in chilly sauce. You might also want to try 'satar', a local delicacy made from fish paste, spices and coconut, wrapped in banana leaf, skewered and grilled over fire.

After Cherating, you'll come to a town called Chukai in Kemaman. You'ved basically crossed over to the neighbouring state of Trengganu. There's nothing much to see in Chukai (it's a small town) but if you're a foodie like me, there's food to check out there! Holidays and weekends will require you to queue outside Kedai Kopi (Coffeeshop) Hai Peng for its much-touted tasty Kemaman coffee and Hainanese coffeeshop fare. Then you can try Chukai's famous stuffed crabs and other local seafood dishes at one of the restaurants on Jalan Sulaimani. To name a few: Restoran Malaysia and Restoran Tong Juan.

Stuffed crab at Tong Juan

What's good about going to Kuantan:
- relatively short journey, can self-drive if you're going from Singapore or Malaysia
- convenient, numerous comfortable resorts to choose from
- see, learn, experience: local sights and culture, turtle conservation, local food
- relaxing and fun time with family by the beach and in the resort, away from hustle and bustle of the city
- relatively affordable short holiday compared to overseas trips
- Kuantan is within easy driving distance to other places of interest in the east coast of Malaysia, good place for halfway stop if you're driving further up north to Kuala Trengganu

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nasal aspirations

When one has a head cold, the most challenging time of the day is at night when the stuffed up nose finds little reprieve for a decent night's sleep. This is especially frustrating for a little one who has yet to learn the skill of blowing the nose. I remember when I was a child, my mother would rub Vicks Vaporub on my philtrum (just under the nose) which ended up being a nuisance rather than an aid to my breathing as the balm would burn my skin.

However, such affairs are of the past for kids today as we now have many other options available for the same purpose. When I need some help to clear out my nasal passages, I would turn to either eucalyptus or peppermint oil. But these oils in their pure form may be too strong for little bodies. While an aspirator may be helpful when the tyke is awake, it is difficult to aspirate when he is asleep.

That's where Karvol Decongestant Capsules come in. These oil capsules have a vapor action that helps relieve blocked noses for children from 3 months old on. Click Karvol for more information. They are easy to use - simply snip the top off of the capsule and dab the content onto a handkerchief tied securely near to but out of reach of the child. What I do is I dab it onto my baby's pajama collar and onto his pillow.As it is made of a unique combination of aromatic oils including pine, cinnamon and menthol, it smells pretty good!
Karvol is retailed at most major pharmacies at around S$9 and they come in a box of 12 capsules.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A fun way to drink milk

If you find it troublesome to cater to the differing tastebuds your kids have for milk, you might want to try a different way of pleasing your milk guzzlers by using Sipahh milk flavoring straws. Rather than having to stock up on cartons of various flavored milk such as chocolate for kid no.1, strawberry for kid no.2 and plain for kid no.3, or having to buy chocolate or other flavored syrups to mix with milk, these milk flavoring straws might just be your savior.

Sipahh milk flavoring straws were invented by a man named Peter Baron and was first sold in Australia in 2005. The straw is filled with flavored beads, called UniBeads. According to the Sipahh website, "as the milk is sipped through Sipahh, the UniBeads dissolve and turn boring white milk into a healthy snack that everyone can enjoy".

The website also lists the flavors that are available (they vary by country):

Choc Mint
Choc Honeycomb
Cookies & Cream
Choc Banana
Toffee Apple

Check out the website here for more details and on how to use the straw.

The skinny:

1. Convenience - you need to only stock up on just one flavor i.e. plain milk, be it full cream, skim, low fat, goat's milk or milk alternatives like soy. No need to buy sticky flavored syrups or powders that you need to mix or stir into milk. Less worry on expiry dates, wastage of unfinished milk.  Easier to stock up on straws that take up less space and don't require refrigeration.

2. Handy - each box contains 10 individually-wrapped straws. They can be easily packed into your bag or picnic basket when you're on the go.

3. No wastage - each straw is good for one portion of milk (200-250ml) your child usually drinks.

4. Relatively safe - each straw contains no preservatives, less than ½ teaspoon of sugar and is gluten free. It is suitable for vegetarians and also "helps deliver the goodness of milk including protein, calcium and riboflavin" according to the website. However, like all man-made products, its ingredients have added flavor (non-artificial), color (natural) and sweetener.

5. Pricing - reasonable

6. Choice - too many flavors to choose from, especially if the country you live in offers a wider range.

7. Hygienic and green - each straw is individually wrapped and good for one use only. They are recyclable. Each Sipahh is manufactured according to strict quality standards and under HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point) conditions. Sipahh is also FDA (Food & Drug Administration) safety compliant in the USA.

8. Best used with cold or room temperature milk.

9. Fun - it's quite a novelty at first for your kids to drink milk using these straws. My daughter who usually drinks a portion of less than 200 ml of milk had actually asked me for a top-up when she noticed there were still some undissolved UniBeads left in the straw after finishing about 150ml of milk. They might also be eager to drink more milk simply because they want to try out the different flavors. My daughter likes the chocolate and strawberry but not the banana or caramel.

Check out their FAQs here.

Finally, if you're like me, wondering why on earth this product is strangely named Sipahh, it's just simply this:

"Simply dip into cold milk, Sip, and say Ahh!"